By Nikhila Natarajan
New York, July 8 (IANS) In stark contrast to advice from America’s top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci, the White House is aggressively pushing for nationwide school reopenings this Fall, underlining that its top priority during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is having students “physically present” in school.
“Our country has got to get back, and it’s got to get back as soon as possible. And I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed,” US President Donald Trump said.
The coronavirus is blamed for more than 130,000 deaths in America, it has sickened more than 2.9 million people here since the first case was reported early January.
Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are both insisting that schools must plan for fully operational, in-person instruction when schools begin this September.
DeVos went a step further today describing distance education and limited edition in-person classes as a disaster. Fauci, meanwhile, is recommending that school re-openings must be customised to infection trends at the hyper local level.
“This Fall, get the children back in school – headlined a White House email sent out early Tuesday afternoon.
The White House followed up on the email with a 90 minute livestream of a “national dialogue” on reopening America’s schools, with top administration officials in attendance all parroting three identical themes: Reopen schools, students areA smarter than we think, public health recommendations must not be used as a reason to keep schools closed.
The White House is championing the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) view that the risk of Covid-19 to children was initially overestimated and has proven to be minimal. The country’s most powerful office is telling Americans that they must not use public health recommendations as a way to avoid reopening schools.
According to the AAP: “No child or adolescents should be excluded from school unless required in order to adhere to local public health mandates or because of unique medical needs.”
The AAP recommendation aligns with the current White House mood in election year – that Covid-19 risks can at best be mitigated, not eliminated entirely.
This White House push to reopen K-12 education comes a day after Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued new rules that say foreign students who attend online only classes this Fall would have to leave the country. That policy guidance has instantly sparked panic across the international student community in the US.
Meanwhile, K-12 school systems across all 50 states are grappling with the same questions about public health safety tied to school reopenings.
Policy makers are framing the challenge as one that will be critical to help local economies recover. That, they say, can happen only when parents can send their children to school and themselves get back to work.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published guidance for schools last month, including staggered schedules, greater distance between desks, meals in classrooms and physical barriers between bathroom sinks and protocols for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.
Speaking to IANS, Dr. Suresh Reddy, president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) is advocating a conservative approach to school reopening, and likened the virus to a wild beast. aceWe have to be very careful for the next one year. This is like a wild animal. We’re able to sit on it now but we still don’t have control. This is a very dangerous virus. It is affecting every system. Treatment protocols are not clear. There’s still too much we don’t know.”